The Best Tech Ideas of 2009

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according to David Pogue:

These honors, now in their fifth consecutive year, aren’t meant to identify the best products of the year; that’s way too obvious. Instead, the Pogies celebrate the best ideas of the year — great, clever features that somehow made it past the obstacles of cost, engineering and lawyers.

Kindly turn off your cellphones and refrain from flash photography. All right, then, let’s begin.

DROID DOCKS The Motorola Droid, of course, is an app phone (that is, an iPhone wannabe with a black rectangular touch screen, etc.). It’s generally a very good one, with slide-out keyboard, excellent speed and the Verizon network.

The winner here isn’t the phone, though — it’s the docks. One $30 plastic dock suctions to your windshield. When you slip the phone into it, hidden magnetic sensors automatically fill the Droid’s screen with Google’s new GPS navigation software, complete with turn-by-turn driving directions, spoken street names, color coding to indicate traffic, map icons (for parking and so on), satellite view and more.

Or buy the $30 home dock. When you insert the Droid, the screen becomes a handsome, horizontal-layout alarm-clock/weather display, complete with buttons that let you access your music or even dim the screen for sleepy time. You have to charge your phone overnight anyway, so why shouldn’t it be doing something useful in the meantime?

There’s 8 more…

My Tentative/Reluctant Embrace of New Technology

As research for the writing of this post — and, yes, research goes into the writing of some posts — I had asked members of the Cubiyanqui group on Facebook to complete the following sentence:

“When I first heard of Twitter, I thought it was a ___________.

“A Vogel-fluitje,” was the most intriguing of the answers I got back. I had to consult the Goggle when I got that one. I found out that the term refers to a bird whistle used in bird calling. A very popular hobby, I’m told.

I am a Boomer and to most people like me, new technological advances can be exciting and a little frightening at the same time. Most of us have seen this sector come to life and blossom in front of our eyes and accelerate in the last couple of decades. Our kids and their kids don’t remember the IBM Selectric, or the eight-track tape player. Or even the time when remote controls were tethered to the big wooden armoire in the living room we called a television console. Or that most of us first watched it in glorious black and white.

I still remember the thrill I felt when my parents bought me my first calculator to help with my high school algebra class. It was a Texas Instrument the size of your typical paperback. I loved placing it on my desk, certain that I was making my classmates envious. The same feeling came back when a few years later I had a phone installed in my car, a procedure so complex that I had to leave the car at the dealer for a whole day. There was to be disassembling the dashboard and removing of carpeting for the new wiring and the placing of a base in the trunk that looked like a souped-up transistor radio. I drove away with a small mike on the visor and a thin antenna glued to the wind shield. I didn’t mind when I had to walk down from the third story of a house I was inspecting to answer the car phone. I had the dealer attach the ringer to the car horn to alert me to incoming calls that didn’t want to miss. Most of these turned out to be from my family. They were happy to be able to track me down as I drove around Hudson County. A negative side effect of the new technology, for sure.

But I thought I was hot shit. Until I went out to lunch with a business associate that had a true portable phone. The term cell phone was not in wide use yet. This beauty was about a half-brick in size and it sat — when not in use — on a battery that was as big as a shoe box. We walked into a restaurant in the Jersey Shore, and while I was trying to listen for my car horn, this guy just sat at the table talking into his half-brick. All of the patrons in the neighboring tables could not keep their eyes of that cutting-edge marvel. I could see that they were envious. 

There’s a lesson from that day. Whatever new shinny gizmo I am fascinated with today, I now know that one day in the not too distant future, it too will look, in retrospect, as ridiculous as that portable phone looks today. It gives me perspective and it helps me to not get too attached.

Technology is advancing so fast I find it hard to keep up with it sometimes. Email, Twitter, Facebook. The choices can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know what it’s truly beneficial and what can be just another time drain. Worse, our brains get used to the new ways of technology rather quickly. They become lazy and atrophy. It develops attitude, like in: “you can get the cheepo calculator to do that faster and more accurately that me, so why do you insist on doing these math problems the old fashion way, buster?”

Here the perfect example of the dangers of this over-reliance:

I had gotten accustomed to locking and unlocking the car doors with the remote built into my main key. Click, click, the alarm is disabled. Click, click, the locks are released. Click, click, the car engine is started. Except when the tiny battery inside the remote began to falter. Then the click, click worked only sometimes. After I had finished shopping on a trip to the store not too long ago, I approached the car and pressed the key. No click,click. Zero movement. No sounds of alarm-disarming coming from the car. I stood next to my car, for a full minute, wondering if I should call the Triple A or if I should try to open the door myself, the old fashion way using a wire hanger.

I didn’t need to do either. I opened the door by inserting the key into the keyhole and turning it. I had the solution in my hand but the lazy brain was incapable of recognizing it for a full minute.

Good thing I wasn’t being chased by robbers.

I have a cousin who is from the pre-boomer generation. She does not own a computer or a cell phone and she refuses to even get an answering machine or voice mail for her home phone. It’s annoying as hell for the rest of the family but she seems very happy about the fact that you can only talk to her when she’s actually home and she’s up to answering her phone. Did I mention that she doesn’t even have call waiting on her line?

I’m convinced that somewhere between my dependance on the car remote and my cousin’s techno-aversion lies the answer.

A well balanced modern life is possible. Even desirable.

—JM